LSU AgCenter summer activity helps Shreveport teens learn science, math through gardening

Grace Peterson, Chesser, Vicky, Van Osdell, Mary Ann  |  7/25/2008 9:28:31 PM

Dr. H.Y. Hanna at the LSU AgCenter's Red River Research Station in Bossier City teaches teens from a Shreveport summer program about growing tomatoes. (Photo by Mary Ann Van Osdell) (Click on photo to download larger image.)

News Release Distributed 07/25/08

Shreveport teens are getting a taste of gardening in an LSU AgCenter summer activity – and learning a whole host of science and math concepts in the process.

Grace Peterson, LSU AgCenter Family Nutrition Program coordinator, conducts classes for participants in a Shreveport Public Assembly and Recreation (SPAR) summer program. So far, she’s taught them about the soil and the soil ecosystem, the plant life cycle and parts of a plant and how to plan a vegetable garden.

“The students designed a 4-foot by 20-foot garden plot,” Peterson said. “This also brings in math skills.”

The classroom lessons also involve food demonstrations and taste tests. The students rate their favorite fruits for color and flavor and taste the differences between garden-fresh produce and that from the grocery store.

“Garden-fresh foods taste better, and kids are more likely to eat vegetables and fruits if they grow them themselves,” Peterson said.

“We never expected to hear the kids shouting out ‘Vitamin A for your eyes’ or picking unfamiliar fruits like kiwis as a favorite,” Peterson said. “Hands-on is definitely a good way to get the lessons across.”

“The children in this program are learning skills that are going to last them a lifetime,” said Vicky Chesser, LSU AgCenter nutritionist and registered dietitian. “Having access to healthy food is much easier once you have the basic background in how to plan a garden.”

The SPAR six-week sessions are under way at five recreation centers in the Shreveport area and will end Aug. 15.

One of the groups came to the LSU AgCenter’s Red River Research Station on June 11 and toured the tomato greenhouses and constructed wetland there. Dr. Blair Buckley, an LSU AgCenter researcher, taught them how plants grow.

“Most of them have a neighbor or small community garden close to their neighborhood,” Chesser said. “The hope is to put gardens in a place within walking distance of their homes so they can practice what they’ve learned.”

“The long-term goal is to have a community garden at each of the five recreational centers,” Peterson said.

A pilot garden is planned at Valencia, said Robin Jenkins, supervisor of youth programs for SPAR.

The program generates more awareness in what the kids now take for granted – eating, Jenkins said.

“They’re having some real in-the-dirt skills explained at their level,” he said. “Gardening is an alternative to video games.”

With food prices continuing to rise, these lessons may give the youth the confidence someday to grow what they don’t want to buy, Jenkins said.

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Contacts: Grace Peterson at (318) 741-7430, ext. 1503, or gpeterson@agcenter.lsu.edu

Vicky Chesser at (318) 741-7430, ext. 1501, or vchesser@agcenter.lsu.edu

Writer: Mary Ann Van Osdell (318) 741-7430, ext. 1104, or mvanosdell@agcenter.lsu.edu
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